Brain Efficiency (part 4)

Posted: February 3, 2012 in psychology
Tags: , ,

(Link to Part 1) There is an aspect of this brain-natural working that I find interesting with regard to an individual’s decision to make a change in their own life. We tend to think of that as an individual decision and event. We think that all we have to do is make the decision and commitment to change and carry through and things will be different. Yes, some things will be different, but many times we fail to realize that we have direct control over only one of the many “MEs.” All of the people with whom we have interacted to any extent at all have a model of ME active in THEIR brains. The more we have to interact with people, the stronger will be the model. Not necessarily accurate models, but ones that work for them. And remember, as hard as it might be for me to make actual changes in my behavior or life style, I represent only one of the many MEs that exist as models in other people’s brains. I can’t FORCE them to change their models. In fact, asking them to change their models is asking them to expend energy; to make an effort on our behalf, for our benefit.

A lot of politics is about trying to create in your brain a desirable or undesirable model of a personality. Since you normally don’t have a chance to know the person on an intimate basis, your model is left with characterizations of their friends and foes. Their friends hope to help you build a favorable model based on psychological associations with models you already have and perhaps famous people they think you will tend to believe. In negative cases, they try to have you associate negative things with the person or policy they oppose. The models I want you to think about for a few minutes are the models of you that exist in other people’s brains.

If I try to change, there will be resistance. Some people will ignore me. Some will think I am acting weird. Some will just not want to make the effort to change their own model of me and will continue to treat me as if I had not changed at all. They may even actively encourage me to fail to change so their model will remain in tact, so they will not have to deal with being wrong — most of this subconsciously going on. They may be depending so totally on their model, they do not even notice sensory input does not match their model. If I try to diet and let people know, they may try to tempt me with old-style eating habits. If I try to improve my education, they may try to put obstacles in my way to successfully completing my goals. In a close relationship, a change can be taken as challenge to that person’s model of themselves, a threat to their own self assessment, a criticism of their life-style and hence resisted because they don’t want to change either their model of you and even more so recognize the flaws in the model of themselves. So change ‘in situ’, that is staying in the same place, dealing with the same people, the same job, the same everything can be extremely difficult. You might successfully change yourself only to realize that no one else acknowledges that change. You might find new resistance even to old acceptable relationships.

There is a solution. Change the environment. Interesting how this simple statement can apply to so many situations. It is a common advice given to parents and child-care personnel when a problem has developed with a child. Change the environment. It disrupts the models or if the environment is completely different, it permits you to develop entirely new models with new people. You can become any person you choose within your capacity and skills when moving to a new geographical area where no one knows you. If you are changing jobs, it is important to think about this when developing a resume as it is the beginning point of a new model that will be formed in the readers brain. So too will the interview be the new employer’s effort to build a hire/no-hire decision based on their own model, unfortunately unknown to you, of things they should be looking for while building their model of you in heir brains. But, it is still the only way to make a break with the past, to create a new you. It is the only way to defeat the powerful model-building, model-sustaining work of the human brain in other people.

I have personally experienced this several times. The first time was when I was only thirteen. My family moved from Macon, Georgia to Miami, Florida. I had developed some friends in Georgia and as a result some habits that I was not proud of and wanted to change but had not been successful in changing. I had a reputation (a set of models in other kids brains). When I moved, I decided to be a different person. As it turned out, it was not that hard to do and I noticed that and began to think about it. Conscious of that, I have managed to repeat it several times, changing aspects of my personality and behavior, improving on my self-assessed version of my model. And I am a different person than I used to be.

A person who has been incarcerated will have difficulty not falling into the same patterns if they return to the environment that preceded incarceration. A person who has been the victim of domestic violence can not expect to alter their experience if they return to the environment where the violence originated. A person who maintains long term residence in one location will have many strong models of themselves built in the people who know them.

This “Brain as a Model Builder” idea is itself a model, a model that fits a number of experiences around how people relate to the external world. It also helps explain how prejudice works. A person builds a model of the “other” based on limited experience with a sample from the “other” or based on what someone has told us about the “other”. Then, we use the model we have built rather than any broad experience. In some cases, we build the model and then, when we encounter members of the “other”, we look for things to affirm the validity of our model. Having our model be “right” is far more satisfying, taking far less energy than adjusting the model based on new experiences. A model can be so powerful that we totally discount counter examples preferring instead to use the easier, less energy consuming task of re-working the model. When we are ignorant that we are operating off a model, when we believe our model rather than considering it open to revision based on new evidence, that is bigotry. Bigotry is not knowing you are prejudiced, not realizing you are working off a faulty model.

In conclusion, if a person wants to make a significant life change, how can they improve the chance for success. In a few words, “change the environment.” If you are working full time in a large organization, it might only take a move from one department to another or from one building to another to accomplish life changes with considerably greater success than is possible staying put where you are, dealing with the same people, the same situations, the same problems. But if you do have to make the changes ‘in situ’, you will have to work extra hard to force the changes in the many models of you for the changes to be complete and acknowledged. If you are trying to overcome a situation that has resulted in detrimental impacts on you, you need to avoid the environments that caused the harm. How many of “you” are there? The real you and then the many models of you existing in other peoples brains.  (the end)

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